FEW, if any, unsolved crimes have held a grip on the national imagination like the disappearance of the three young Beaumont children from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide on Australia Day, 1966.
For those who remember those times, the apparent abduction in broad daylight of the siblings – Jane, nine, Arnna, seven, and Grant, four – was an inexplicable act in a nation that prided itself on its sunny, post-war outlook. Of course, all societies have their dark sides, and a string of subsequent crimes in Adelaide eventually gave this “Paris of the south” an unwanted reputation for murder as well as churches.
But of all the dark deeds to have taken place within South Australian borders, the disappearance of the Beaumont children is the most emblematic – a crime that almost single-handedly brought an end to an Australian innocence. A general childhood trust in adults was replaced with suspicion, as post-Beaumont primary school pupils began to learn about “stranger danger”. More missing children made headlines. Old freedoms gave way to new restrictions: so much so that to let three children catch a train to the beach by themselves – as the Beaumonts did that day – would be unthinkable to most of today’s “helicopter” parents.
Now, 62 years after that fateful summer’s day, authorities may be closer than ever to solving this sadly stubborn mystery. In 2013, Adelaide businessman the late Harry Phipps was named as an alleged paedophile and possible abductor of the Beaumont trio. Although nothing eventuated from a search of his former factory, investigators working with a Seven network crime show, Murder Uncovered, believe they may have located a grave on the site.
In an echo of the work Novocastrian Barry Boettcher did in proving the innocence of Lindy Chamberlain, another University of Newcastle academic, Dr Xanthe Mallett, has a role in the current Beaumont investigation. A criminologist and forensic anthropologist, Dr Mallett has described Mr Phipps as “the most viable suspect put forward to date”.
Time will tell whether whether the ground-sensitive radar used to detect an apparent “anomaly” in the factory grounds will prove to be the crucial breakthrough. In the meantime, the publicity is turning the clock back to a terrible turning point in our history. For the Beaumont parents, Jim, 92, and Nancy, 90, the pain will never go away, regardless of an eventual solution.